Everyone who has attended the International School of Paris Secondary School since the early 1980s knows Mr. Collett, and it is highly likely that he has taught them at some point during their time at ISP. Mike, as colleagues call him, has become an ISP institution in his 35-year career here, and we owe him a great deal for the development and solidification of the school.
What brought him to Paris? "Love - what else?" he said during a recent conversation. "I fell in love and moved to Paris to live with my French wife. We were both teachers, but I came without a job or a plan. Luckily, it all worked out!"
Mike had six years' experience in teaching PE and mathematics in Coventry and Bournemouth, so he sent an unsolicited application to ISP to test the waters. It so happened that the school needed a PE teacher, and Mike was hired on the spot.
"Already the first impression told me that this was going to be different!" he said. "In my previous school the student body came from very tough conditions, and half of the kids that I taught had been in juvenile detention centers. While this school was of course much smaller than it is today, the famous ISP Spirit was already present, and I have truly enjoyed working with our students from day one. My PE facilities were a whistle and a ball, but that didn't matter!"
When Mike was hired, ISP was small - there were about 200 students, and the school only went up to Grade 8 – but it was expanding rapidly with the acquisition of the building at 7 Chardin. Below Grade 8 there were no specialist teachers for mathematics, so there was only one mathematics teacher in the whole school. Needs changed as the school added one grade level after another, and Mike moved over from PE to mathematics to fill the gap. (For comparison, there are seven teachers in the Mathematics department today.)
Adding grades at secondary level also meant that the school needed to choose a curriculum for the upper-school students. At first the school chose O-levels and GCSE (General Certificate of Secondary Education); there was no international curriculum for the primary or middle years at the time, and the IB Diploma was just in its infancy. Mike Collett was part of that change, as ISP played a significant role in the development of an international curriculum.
"Many of the international programs were created throughout the world at that time, and ISP was in the forefront of that work," he remembered. "In 1997 we were a pilot school for the IGCSE," one of the international middle school programs available today. "Our visual arts teacher, Inderjeet Sahdev, practically wrote the syllabus for arts, and we even held a conference here!" Mariam Habibi who taught history at ISP, "was also heavily involved" in the development of the history syllabus and of the whole IGCSE, Mike recalled.
Story continues after the photo
From top left: Amanda Reynaud, Dave Stansfield, Tim Stone, Michael Collett, Valerie Norman. From bottom left: Gareth Jones, Diane O'Reilly and Damian Kerr.
Throughout the years Mike has held several roles of responsibility, including Director of Studies, Vice Principal and IB Coordinator. A few years back Mike stepped down as Head of Mathematics to concentrate on what he loves the most: teaching. "I like being with the students,'' he said. "I like the exchanges between us, and enjoy watching people develop."
Looking back, Mike acknowledges that there have been many twists and turns and some fundamental changes in the school over the years, but some things have not changed. "The kids are still the same,'' he said. "They are different individuals, and there are more of them, but the dynamic is the same. And it's the kids that run the school and make the school what it is."
Mike has a reputation as an excellent mathematics teacher, someone who can encourage students having difficulty to get up to speed. What is his secret? "Ask the students!" Mike said with a laugh, before elaborating: "I think it's a question of explaining things as simply as you can. Mathematics is a structured discipline, and being confident is the key to success. You have to systematically build that confidence in students. Respect is another cornerstone for me. There needs to be respect in two directions, no matter who you are dealing with."
One of Mike's favorite moments of the school year is Grade 12 Graduation. "I look at the end product there, and it's always very positive," he said. "It's a great moment, and I know that the students take all sorts of things on board. Our alumni remember their time at ISP with great fondness, and even those who were here for only one year never forget their time at ISP."
It's time for Mr. Collett to graduate. But before we let him go, we need to find out what he'll be doing next: "I'll be staying in the Paris area for the moment, but will probably end up spending a bit more time in our house in Brittany," he said. "I hope to be cooking, gardening and spending time with my 3-year-old granddaughter. But most of all, I'll be just doing whatever my wife tells me to do!"
Mike Collett at the Alumni Cocktail during ISP's 50th anniversary weekend in May, 2015